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Nothing New in “New Turkey’s” architecture

Written by Katharina Schmidt on . Posted in Sustainability

mimarsinan2Construction is the key factor in Turkey’s booming economy: currently the government has more than half a trillion dollars’ worth of planned, ongoing or recently completed building projects across the country. Oppulent projects that strive back to the glory and splendour of the Ottoman Empire. Erdoğan’s immense “White Palace” with more than 1000 rooms, İstanbul’s third airport that aims at becoming world’s largest, the digging of a whole “new Bosporus” making an island out of İstanbul and the construction of the biggest mosque in the history of the republic. All of these projects are highly contested regarding environmental and social impacts.

Interesting is the look at how the conservative self-perception of the ruling AK Party is shown in the architecture of these massive construction projects. The contradiction is: the so called conservative party doesn’t “conserve” anything. On the contrary, sites highly rich in cultural heritage, İstanbul’s wooden houses or traditional neighborhoods like Sulukule or Tarlabaşı are violently torn down in order to build up something completely new. “The new Turkey needs to manifest itself in certain ways,” Erdoğan said in October. However, it isn’t new at all: Again aimed at recalling Ottoman’s past, the buildings are mostly bad copies of former ottoman geniuses.


Taking the three year old “New Mimar Sinan Mosque” in the Maltepe District, criticized as being a bad replica of the great architect’s mosques. Squeezed and completely sandwiched between new high-rise residential and commercial buildings, the mosque is rather an accessory to a commercialised area than a tribute to one of the most famous turkish architects. Similarly, the huge mosque on the Camlıca hill on Istanbul’s asian side which is currently under construction and seen as one of Erdoğan’s prestige projects, is criticized for a lack of innovative concepts and for copying the famous Sultan Ahmed’s (Blue Mosque’s) architecture.


Even modern luxury housing or the new finance district in the north of Istanbul shall refer to the old Ottoman times: An over eight billion dollar worth residential project at the city’s outskirts is named “Maslak 1453”, after the year of İstanbul’s conquest. And the new residential and shopping area in the place of the torn down Hacıhüsrev district is designed with triangular towers – like the Topkapı Palace, “inspired” by ottoman and selcuk architecture. Again, instead of an innovative interpretation of historical design, the new buildings present a famous architecture’s rip-off, turning them into theme-park like kitch appearances. Maybe the culmination of this development is the recently opened Vialand park.


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